On January 19, 2012 at St. Mary’s University, Dr. Bart D. Ehrman and Dr. Craig A. Evans took part in a debate and dialogue moderated by Greg Monette on the question: “Does the New Testament Present a Reliable Portrait of the Historical Jesus?”
Here are many of the scholars whose views have been included in some of the posts listed under Apostolic Apologetics.
Peter Balla – Professor of New Testament studies at the Faculty of Theology, Karoli Gaspar Reformed University, Budapest.
Paul Barnett (1935-) – A teaching fellow at Regent College, Vancouver, and a visiting fellow in ancient history at Macquarie University in Australia. He was the Anglican bishop of North Sydney fro 1990 to 2001, and is the author of Is the New Testament Reliable? and other books.
Craig L. Blomberg – Distinguished Professor of the New Testament at Denver Seminary in Colorado
Darrell L. Bock – Executive Director of Cultural Engagement and Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. BA, University of Texas, 1975; ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979; PhD, University of Aberdeen, 1983; postdoctoral study, Tübingen University. Seminary bio.
Marc Z. Brettler
F. F. Bruce (1910-1990)
D. A. Carson – Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
Philip W. Comfort
Oscar Cullmann (1902-1999) – German professor of New Testament and Christian theologian.
James D. G. Dunn – Lightfoot Professor of Divinity in the University of Durham.
Bart D. Ehrman
C. Stephan Evans – American historian and philosopher.
Craig A. Evans – Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College, Wolfville, Nova Scotia.
Harry Y. Gamble – Professor of Religious Studies and Chair of he Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia.
J. Norval Geldenhuys (1918-1964) – Author of Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (1951) and Supreme Authority: The Authority of the Lord, His Apostles, and the New Testament (1953).
Norman L. Geisler
Ed Gravely – Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Robert Laird Harris (1911-2008)
Charles E. Hill – Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL. BA, University of Nebraska; MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary; PhD, University of Cambridge. Seminary bio.
Jeremy Royal Howard
Larry W. Hurtado
Sir Frederic Kenyon (1863-1952) – GBE, KCB, TD, FBA, FSA was a British palaeographer and biblical and classical scholar. He occupied from 1889 to 1931 a series of posts at the British Museum (including Director and Principal Librarian).
Michael J. Kruger
Hans Lietzmann (1875-1942) – German scholar and Lutheran church historian noted for his investigations of Christian origins.
Lee M. McDonald – Principal and Professor of Biblical Studies at Acadia Divinity College, Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia.
Bruce M. Metzger (1914-2007)
John Warwick Montgomery – lawyer, professor, theologian, and author. His website.
Stephen Neill (1900-1984) – A Scottish Anglican missionary and bishop. He was also a scholar, proficient in Greek and Latin, and he wrote many books including The Interpretation of the New Testament, 1861-1961.
Arthur G. Patzia
Andrew W. Pitts – studied under Stanley E. Porter.
Stanley E. Porter
John A. T. Robinson (1919-1983)
James A. Sanders – President of the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center and Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at the Claremont School of Theology and the Claremont Grauate University, Claremont, California.
Peter Saunders – CEO of Christian Medical Fellowship, a UK-based organization with 4,500 UK doctors and 1,000 medical students as members.
M. James Sawyer – Western Seminary
Mark L. Strauss – Bethel Seminary
Daniel B. Wallace – Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary.
B. B. Warfield (1851-1921)
Peter J. Williams
N. T. Wright
As with all other writings from ancient times, we are dependent upon handwritten copies for our text of the Bible. Some people today justify their skepticism about the Bible on the basis that we don’t have the originals, or photocopies of the originals. If, however, we throw out the Bible because we object to handwritten copies of texts, logic dictates that we throw out all the ancient writers listed below first because we have weaker textual evidence for them than for the Bible.
Who would be willing to say, “We aren’t sure enough about Plato’s texts to know what he was saying,” or “It’s useless to talk about Aristotelian logic because Aristotle’s original texts are lost to us”? Who would be willing to throw out all the writers of the Greco-Roman world because they wrote in a world without a printing press?
Apply the same degree of skepticism to all the other works of antiquity that some want to apply to the Bible and here is a partial list of the historians, philosophers, statesmen, dramatists, and others whose thoughts you will need to do without. (While the authors of the Old and New Testament documents are indeed “authors of antiquity,” their names are obviously excluded from this list.)
The footnotes will take you to sources that specify the number and dating of oldest manuscripts for the author relative to the New Testament.
(Though the purpose of this post is not to corroborate the historicty of Jesus, those non-Christian authors who make some historial reference to Him are underlined.)
Aeschylus (525-456 BC) – Greek playwright; one of three greats (along with Euripides and Sophocles).
Aristophanes² (446-386 BC) – Greek playwright.
Arrian (86-160 AD) – Greek historian. A biographer of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC), as was Plutarch. (As for Alexander the Great, the early surviving biography we have is that written by Diodorus Siculus in the 1st Century BC; thus, the earliest biography we have of Alexander was written three centuries after his death while we have four gospels of Jesus written in the generation of his contemporaries.)
Cato (the Elder) (234-149 BC) – Roman statesman.
Cicero (106-43 BC) – Roman philosopher, politician, and orator.
Demosthenes² (4th Century BC) – Greek statesman and orator.
Epicurus (341-270 BC) – “Greek philosopher as well as the founder of the school of philosophy called Epicureanism. Only a few fragments and letters of Epicurus’s 300 written works remain. Much of what is known about Epicurean philosophy derives from later followers and commentators.” (Source: Wikipedia)
Herodotus², ³ (484-425 BC) – Greek historian; wrote The Histories, considered the foundational work of history in Western literature. He is thus called “the father of history,” and, along with Thucydides, who was 24 years his junior, is considered among the first true historians. The two are often compared, one distinction being that while Herodotus might attribute certain outcomes to the gods, Thucydides did not. We have 26 manuscripts attributed to Herodotus, the earliest of which is 1,500 years after the original were written.
Hippocrates (460-370 BC) – Greek physician in the Age of Pericles.
Homer¹, ², ³ (7th or 8th Century BC) – Greek poet; author of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Citing the work of British scholar Sir Moses Finley (1912-1986), Wikipedia says, “Fragments of Homer account for nearly half of all identifiable Greek literary papyrus finds.” I have to presume that this excludes biblical texts. The Iliad, at 643 manuscripts, is second among documents from antiquity. David Limbaugh in Jesus on Trial (2014; Kindle edition location 3979) says recent discoveries from the period 300-150 B.C. have brought this total to 1,800. Yet this number is just under a third of the number of Greek manuscripts we have of the New Testament.
Horace (65-8 BC) – Roman poet.
Josephus (37-100 AD) – Roman-Jewish historian. Our oldest copies of his writings are dated 800 years after he lived.
Livy² (64 BC – 17 AD) – Roman historian.
Lucian (120-180 AD) – Lucian of Samostata was a rhetorician and satirist.
Lucretius² (99-55 BC) – Roman poet and philosopher.
Mara bar Serapion (1st-2nd Century AD) – A Stoic philosopher from the Roman province of Syria.
Pausanias (110 – 180 AD) Greek geographer. Our oldest copies of his work are dated 1,400 years after he lived.
Philo of Alexandria (25 BC – 50 AD) – Hellenistic Jewish philosopher.
Phlegon (2nd Century AD) – Phlegon of Tralles was a Greek writer quoted by Eusebius.
Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) – Roman author, naturalist, and philosopher; uncle to Pliny the Younger. Our oldest copies of his writing are dated 700 years after he lived.
Plutarch (46-120 AD) – Greek historian and biographer. A biographer of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC), as was Arrian. Our oldest copies of his writing are dated 800 years after he lived.
Polybius (200-118 BC) – Greek historian. Our oldest copies of his writing are dated 1,200 years after he lived.
Ptolemy (90-168 AD) – A Greco-Egyptian mathematician, geographer, astronomer, and astrologer.
Seneca the Elder (54 BC – 39 AD) – Roman rhetorician and writer. Father of Seneca the Younger.
Seneca the Younger (4 BC – 65 AD) – Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, and dramatist; also a tutor of Nero. Son of Seneca the Elder.
Thallus (1st Century AD) – Roman historian. “In his Chronicle from about the year 800 the Byzantine chronicler Georgius Syncellus cites a passage from a book, no longer extant, entitled A History of the World, which was written around 220 by the church father Julius Africanus, himself an able historian, who in turn reports that the Roman historian Thallus, who wrote on the history of the Ancient Near East, tries in the third book of his History, a work also no longer extant, to explain away the darkness at the time of Christ’s death as due to a solar eclipse.” (Reasonable Faith, William Lane Craig)
Thucydides¹, ², ³ (460-395 BC) – Greek historian, philosopher, and general. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the 5th century BC war between Sparta and Athens. He is often compared to Herodotus (see above) who was 24 years older.
Varro (116-27 BC) – Also known as Marcus Terentius Varro, he was a Roman scholar and writer. He is sometimes called Varro Reatinus to distinguish him from his younger contemporary Varro Atacinus. Augustine uses Varro as an example – along with Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero – of ancient authors in Contra Faustum. See Augustine on Authorship (Contra Faustum 33:6).
Velleius (19 BC – 31 AD) – Also known as Marcus Velleius Paterculus or Gaius Velleius Paterculus. Roman historian, most useful for the life of Augustus Caesar.
Virgil (70-19 BC) – Roman poet.
Xenophon (430-354 BC) – historian and soldier; student of Socrates. The earliest manuscripts we have are 1,800 years after he wrote.
¹ Is Our Copy of the Bible a Reliable Copy of the Original? by Rich Deem (Evidence for God)
² Manuscript evidence for superior New Testament reliability by Matt Slick (CARM)
³ The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict: The Bible Is True! by Josh McDowell
Why You Can Trust Your Bible | Justin Holcomb (mss. count for Suetonius is 200, for Josephus is 133, and for Herodotus is 75 – all more than 800 years after the originals)
The New Testament documents were produced a millennia and a half before the invention of the printing press. Any text produced in antiquity was therefore produced by hand; any copy of that text was likewise produced by hand. Hence the term manuscript – “manu” (for hand, as in manual) and script (for writing, as in…well, script).
We who live in a post-Gutenberg age need an orientation to the world of writing and reading that came before us. In some ways it was very different from ours; in others, quite similar. Our initial exposure to ancient methods of reproducing texts may cause us to wonder how they managed to keep copies faithful to the original. However, continued study will bring us assurance that we can not only be confident that we know what Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, and other authors of antiquity wrote, but that, for the very same reasons, we can be even more confident about what the apostles of Jesus Christ wrote.
Because, of course, each document in antiquity was written by hand, it was subject to error – however slight. And while these ancient scribes probably copied more accurately than you are I would have been able to do, we still need to review their work in such as a way as to be able to discern when and where those errors occur, so that we can correct for them. The good news is that each copy is a potential for correcting another, and the more copies we have, the easier it is to identify the errors, and, conversely, the correct wording of the original. The scholarly discipline which has arisen to manage this task is called textual criticism.
Textual criticism does not mean criticizing texts. Rather, it means critically analyzing copies in a way that best reconstructs the wording of the original text. Textual criticism is not a field unique to the Bible. It has a role to play in all texts produced before the printing press – including the writings of Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, Thucydides, Tacitus, Julius Caesar, and all other authors of antiquity.
The glossary below will help you navigate the field of textual criticism by introducing you to some of its terms. I have also included terms related to translation, because, at least for those of us who read in English, translation is as much as issue for us as the text and its transmission. That is, for us to read what the original authors intended to be read, we must look through a process of translation as well as a process of copying. The good news is that both translating and copying work well enough that we can today read in English the writings of the ancient world…and have the opportunity to understand them. Of course, understanding (i. e., interpretation) is another matter entirely. However, it cannot even begin properly if we do not have a settled or stable text to read. Textual criticism and translation work together to give us just that kind of text.
Alexandrian text – This is one of the four text types or text families (see “text type” below for the others).
autograph – the original document written by the original author
Byzantine text – the family of copies adopted in Constantinople (another name for Byzantium) and used as the common text in the Byzantine world. It was produced in Antioch, Syria, and has also been called the Syrian or Antiochene text. Erasmus and the King James Version translators relied on it. “Of the MSS that are now known, almost all of those from the eightth century and later are Byzantine in their readings, and these comprise between eighty and ninety percent of all presently known MSS.” (Greenlee, p. 41, see Bibliography). This is one of the four text types or text families (see “text type” below for the others).
Caesarian text – One of the four major “text types” (see below), it seems to have arisen out of the Alexandrian text but was also mixed with the Western text. As a result, its value is limited. The name is associate with the city of Caesaria in Palestine. “Some textual scholars have disputed the existence of a separate Caesarian text-type…” (Greenlee, p. 41, see Bibliography). This is one of the four text types or text families (see “text type” below for the others).
codex (singular; plural is codices) – Latin for “book.” Distinguished from a scroll.
Codex Alexandrinus –
Codex Bezae –
Codex Sinaiticus – (c. 350 AD) – the oldest manuscript of the complete New Testament (codexsinaiticus.org)
Codex Vaticanus –
codices (plural; singular is codex) –
critical text –
eclectic text – contrasted with “single text.”
Erasmus – Desiderius Erasmus made the Greek New Testament available in Europe.
extant – remaining
external evidence – witnesses (compare and contrast with internal evidence)
internal evidence – variants (compare and contrast with external evidence)
King James Version – 1611
lectionaries – schedules of portions of biblical texts to be read on certain days or dates
licuna (pl., lacunae) – a missing segment of text
LXX – abbreviation for the Septuagint; Roman numeral for the approximate number translators who worked on it.
Martin Luther – translated the Bible into German so that it could be read by the German masses.
majuscule – capital letters
majority text –
minuscule – cursive
MS or ms (singular; plural is MSS or mss) – manuscript; that is, handwritten text
neutral text –
P45 – recovered manuscript from early 3rd Century.
P52 – a fragment of John 18, stored in the John Rylands Library, dated 100-150 (by C. H. Roberts in 1935) and 125-175 (by Orsini and Clarysse in 2012). It is perhaps the earliest manuscript evidence of the New Testament that we have, but see also P104.
P66 – c. 175 AD
P104 – a fragment of Matthew 21 dated 100-200 (by Orsini and Clarysse in 2012), which would put it in the same range as P52.
paleography – the study of ancient writing systems and the deciphering and dating of historical manuscripts
papyrus (singular; plural is papyri) – a common writing material in ancient times, from which our word “paper” is derived. “The scroll of the Gospel of Matthew would have been about thirty feet long, which was about the practical limit for the length of a papyrus scroll.” (Greenlee, p. 7, see Bibliography). “Papyrus was the most common writing material until the third Christian century…” (Greenlee, p. 9).
parchment – writing material made from the skins of animals; easier to write on and lasting longer than papyrus. “…by the fourth century of the Christian era, parchment had displaced papyrus as the most common writing material…” (Greenlee, p. 10, see Bibliography).
reasoned eclecticism –
Septuagint – translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (abbreviated as LXX). The majority of Old Testament quotations found in the New Testament seem to come from the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew version of the Scriptures.
single text – contrasted with eclectic text
text type – There are four major text types or “families” of New Testament texts: Alexandrian, Byzantine, Caesarian, and Western. See each of these above and below.
textual apparatus –
textual criticism – the scholastic and professional discipline of examining copies of ancient texts for the purpose of identifying as closely as possible what was originally written by the ancient author. The goal of textual criticism is to recover the original text from a pre-printing press world. Textual criticism applies to all texts of antiquity, but it is a much more active field when it comes to the Bible because the quantity of manuscript copies is so much greater than that of any other ancient texts.
textual variant – any place among the manuscripts in which there is variation in wording, including word order, omission, even spelling differences
Textus Receptus –
Count Tischendorf –
transcriptional probability – (compare and contrast with intrinsic probability)
William Tyndale (1494-1536) – translated the Bible into English so that it could be read by lay people. Tyndale’s translation was the first English Bible to draw directly from Hebrew and Greek texts, the first English one to take advantage of the printing press, and first of the new English Bibles of the Reformation.
Vulgate – the principal Latin version of the Bible, prepared mainly by St. Jerome in the late 4th century, and (as revised in 1592) adopted as the official text for the Roman Catholic Church.
Westcott and Hort –
Western text – associated with Rome, this is one of the four text types or text families (see “text type” above for the others).
More information on these terms as well as others can be found in the article on New Testament Textual Criticism in the online resource Theopedia. (Some of the definitions above were taken in part or whole from that article; all the rest were gleaned from various books and online resources I have researched.)
These are my raw notes on the video from my first viewing.
Is the original New Testament Lost? A Dialogue with Dr. Bart Ehrman and Dr. Daniel Wallace
Produced by EhrmanProject.com
uploaded February 13, 2012
Wallace stated the spring of 2014 that he had debated Ehrman three times. One of the other times was Saturday, October 1, 2011 at SMU for which a DVD is available. (This October 2011 debate is referenced by Wallace in this post.)
Is the Bible historically reliable?
Did scribes doctor the manuscripts?
How do we explain the Bible’s 400,000 errors?
Why did certain texts make it into the canon?
Why does a “loving God” permit evil in our world?
What answers does the Bible give for ‘the problem of evil’?
Who wrote the gospels?
Couldn’t it all have been a conspiracy?
What is ‘inerracy’?
Question. Engage. Respond.
Miles O’Neal (Campus Crusade for Christ, Cornerstone) is the moderator and opens the evening. Reads Matthew 24:36 (“of
that day or hour no one knows but the Father”)
Do we have a reliable copy of the New Testament in our possession today?
Can we reasonably determine what the original authors and, of course, Jesus Christ Himself actually said?
O’Neal introduces Ehrman and Wallace
Format: Erhman for 30 min on his position regarding the reliability of the NT, then Wallace for 30 min, 2 min break, then
5 min from each side responding to each other, then another 5 min from each side, then they will answer questions from the
Is the original NT lost? Yes! We do not have the original of the New Testament. Period.
Ehrman describes the process of book writing and reproduction in the ancient world.
The question is not that don’t have the originals, but rather can we construct the originals.
What does ‘original text’ even mean? Since Paul dictated, what if original scribe wrote it wrong.
2 Cor is 2-5 different letters spliced together.
Current scholarly theory that Paul’s letters were pulled into one collection around 100 AD and all our copies stem from
this collection. Therefore, we can’t get behind the collection and therefore can’t reconstruct anything before the
Therefore, there’s no reason to even think we could reconstruct the original.
Two versions of Luke.
The epilogue of John?
The prologue of John?
Luke 1-2 was not originally part of text
Doesn’t even make sense to talk about the ‘original text.’ (theoretically speaking)
Problem # 2 – where are the early manuscripts of the NT?
Let me say something about the surviving copies of the NT. Today we have some 5,500 copies of the NT. By last week, the
official count was 5,560 mss that had been cataloged of the Greek NT (the NT was originally written in Greek). That is
far more than for any other book in the ancient world. Far more than any other. Way more than any book of Homer. Or of
Plato. Or Escoles. Or Sophocles. Or Euripedes. Or pick your author. We have far, far more mss of the NT than any
other book in the ancient world by a long shot. So just take that as a given. And the reason is obvious: because the
people copying books in the Middle Ages were monks in monasteries. They’re the ones who gave us our surviving books. The
problem is not the number of these mss but rather their ages. None from the 1st Century. Only one from the 2nd Century.
No complete mss from the 2nd and 3rd centuries. 94% of our surviving mss come from the 9th century and later.
Novum Testamentum Graece by John Mill identified 30k differences in Greek
4th century mss differ significantly from those of the 9th century.
Early transmission of the text was not controlled. The most radical changes to the text were made during the first 150
Most of the 400k textual errors don’t matter – but some do!
Concedes we have many more copies. What we don’t have are early copies. And we don’t have lots of accurate copies. What
we want are early and accurate copies and we don’t have them.
Problem # 3 Why can’t scholars agree?
Scholars can’t agree on what the original text is supposed to be.
Important doctrines: Trinity, the full divinity of X, the full humanity of X, the atoning sacrifice of his death, favorite
stories of his life.
39:57 Let me draw conclusions quickly:
Are the originals of the NT lost to us? Yes!
Can we reconstruct the lost originals? No, because of the insurmountable problems involved.
The three questions I’m going ask are questions that Dan is going to need to answer for us. It will not be good enough
for him to say that we have lots and lots and lots of surviving manuscripts or that we have more manuscripts than for any
other writing from the ancient world. Both things are true. But they do not address the problems. The problems are that
we don’t even agree among ourselves what it means to talk about the original text. That even though we have many
thousands of manuscripts from later periods, we do not have any manuscripts from the early periods that we’re interested
in. And that even though we may want to reconstruct the original text – however we define it – we have shown ourselves
unable to do so time after time after time.
41:23 Dan Wallace starts his 30 minutes:
Are the original NT documents lost? Yes. Is the wording of the original NT documents lost? No.
Two attitudes to avoid: Radical skepticism and absolute certainty
1. How many scribal changes are there?
2. What kinds of textual variants do we have?
3. What theological beliefs depend on textually suspect passages?
4. Is the original NT lost?
It is estimated that there are 300-400k variants in NT text. I am inclined toward the higher number. And yet there are
about only 140,000 words in the NT.
The reason that we have a lot of variants because we have a lot of manuscripts. If there were only one copy of the NT in
existence there would be no variants.
In 1713 only 130 NT mss had been examined.
As more and more mss come to light we are getting closer and closer to the original.
There are about 10,000 Latin mss.
The task of filling the gaps without ms testimony is almost entirely necessary for Greco-Roman literature and almost
entirely unknown for the New Testament.
The NT text was stable from the earliest times. It didn’t radically change from one generation to the next.
There are three times as many
Put simply, the NT is far and away the best attested work of the ancient world.
To demand a 1st-Century copy of Mark goes far beyond what is required of any other ancient literature.
Is the NT text lost or can it be found among the copies we have?
1:17:00 Ehrman begins his 5 min response.
Quotes 5-6 leading textal scholars (holding up their books) who say it no longer makes sense to talk about finding the
Most of the many texts Dan referenced date from the 9th Century and after. Therefore, they do not help us to understand
what the text said 800 years earlier.
Only 4 mss go back to the 2nd Century (they make up 42 vss altogether out of the nearly 8k in the NT)
The original text is the text as it left the hand of the author.
1:29:00 Ehrman goes for 5 min again.
Since the original text is lost, these scholars seek the “earliest available form of” the text (also called “the initial
text”). Yes, we can get back to the earliest available form of the text (earliest attainable text), but that is not the
Wallace starts his 5 min 1:35:18
1:39:57 Questions from audience begin, moderated by Miles O’Neal
Q: If the original manuscripts are missing, how do you each date the manuscripts we have now? Why do the numbers of early
manuscripts differ so much between you two?
Q: When Dr. Wallace says the later texts of the NT gained only “2% of material,” what is that2%? Is it only 2% of
discrepancy between all those works? How do you respond to that percent, Dr. Ehrman?
Q: Dr. Ehrman, what are the manuscript inconsistencies that “matter a lot”? Dr. Wallace, do these undermine the Christian
Q: Dr. Wallace, how do you respond to Dr. Ehrman’s illustration that the copying and recording of the New Testament is
similar to the error-prone, modern game of telephone?
Q: Although not the literal originals, if earlier copies of the manuscripts were to be found, within 30 years of the
‘originals,’ would your perspectives about this matter change, Dr. Ehrman?
Q: Dr. Wallace, can you comment on issues of addition such as the epilogue/prologue confusion in some books?
Q: Dr. Ehrman, can you comment on your view on some scribes willfully manipulating some of the text, and why do you think that?
1:54:30 Ehrman and Wallace are each given 60 seconds to wrap up.